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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Distance vs. Direction

Part of the Route 67 series

You're either long, or you're accurate... but you can't be both. It's one of those things "they" say and that "everybody" knows. We automatically assume the long guys are gonna spray it like a water hose, and we call their style "bomb & gouge" -- bomb it a long way, gouge it out of the rough. And if the other guys don't say they can't play because the course is too long, someone else will say it for them. For example, last week at the Masters, I heard announcers blame Steve Stricker's struggles on a lack of distance.

Excuse me, but Stricker's 2 inches taller (6') and 30 lbs heavier (180) than Anthony Kim... but Kim is 10 yards longer (288.9 vs 278.5)! Does that make sense to you? Then again, Stricker's 11 percentage points more accurate than Kim (67.09% vs 56.25%). That's what you'd expect, isn't it? Longer or straighter, not both.

So let's add Fred Couples to the mix. He's one inch shorter than Stricker and 5 lbs lighter. But he drives it 286.0 yards with 66.52% accuracy! Essentially, he has Kim's distance AND Stricker's accuracy. This doesn't match our expectations.

Distance and direction are NOT enemies. Except for solid contact, they are caused by different things in the golf swing. Let me give you the basics today; file them away in your mind for reference later in the series.

Accuracy is caused by consistent contact. Whether that is a consistent amount of draw, fade, or hitting it square and straight, you must hit it the same way every time. I have posted repeatedly about not rotating your forearms during your swing, whether you're putting or driving... and I have said that Jack Nicklaus did the same thing. Monday night Michael Breed on The Golf Fix backed me up on this as well. He was talking about how consistent Lee Westwood was, and he attributed it to Lee keeping his forearms quiet during his swing. We'll come back to this in a later post.

Distance, contrary to popular belief, is not caused by drawing the ball. Distance (or lack thereof) is caused by ball trajectory. You do realize that lefty Phil's fade is the same shot as righty Tiger's draw, don't you? Hit the ball lower and it goes farther; hit the ball higher and it stops quicker. High hooks behave like high fades; low fades (AKA power fades) behave like low draws. It's always been that way; you can read instructional material by Bobby Jones, from 80 years ago, and read the same thing. The pros know it now as well; that's why they go nuts searching for their ideal launch angle.

Now, knowing this can help you adjust your game a little, but it has a real impact on your equipment. Have you wondered why the pros often hit their 3-woods almost as far as their drivers? Or why Phil uses a 6-degree driver? We'll assume for this discussion that a 10-degree driver gives you the ideal launch angle for your drive. Now, here's how this knowledge helps us choose equipment:

Let's start with the 3-wood. Closing the face for a draw effectively lessens the loft. What that means is that closing down that 15-degree square face might change it to an 11- or even a 10-degree hook face. If you had a 3-wood with a slightly longer shaft -- Ben Hogan was known for this -- you would hit a 3-wood draw that went just as far as your straight driver! (If you just closed the face of your driver, you would lower your launch angle and reduce your carry. In dry conditions, you might get more distance from roll; but in wet conditions, drawing the 3-wood with a normal-length shaft would probably fly farther and maybe give you more distance overall.)

Now let's look at Phil. If you paid any attention to the announcers last week, you know that Phil prefers to hit a fade; it actually gives him a bit of an advantage on most holes at Augusta, 16 being one notable exception. Opening the face for a fade effectively increases the loft. If you open the face on a 10-degree driver, it might turn into a 14- or 15-degree 3-wood! So Phil starts with a 6-degree face... and when he opens it, it turns into a 9- or 10-degree open face.

In each case, players are changing the loft to get the desired launch angle (trajectory) for the maximum distance with their desired shot shape. There are other things involved in getting the ball to travel as far as possible, but trajectory is the start. And to get the desired accuracy to go with this desired trajectory, you change other things like ball position. These aspects are interrelated; in order to get both distance and accuracy, changes to achieve one dictate which changes are made to achieve the other. But balanced properly, you can have both length AND accuracy.

Tomorrow we'll start looking at the components behind distance, beginning with the power sources in the swing.


  1. Mike, I need to pay you to be my caddie for a few rounds - I bet I'd shave a couple stokes off my game. Good stuff as always.

  2. Thanks, Greg. Caddy or not, why don't we see if we can shave a few strokes off anyway? ;-)

  3. Mike, I think this driving stat sums up my thoughts about stats...

  4. I bet Shotlink finds a way to break that down further, into yards per muscle pounds (YPMus), yards per fat pounds (YPFat), and then the combined figure you gave. Of course, these figures will be somewhat unstable during basketball and NFL playoffs because of all the sitting in front of the TV. Perhaps they'll create a potato chip adjustment... ;-)